The Society of Authors (SoA) and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) have launched a joint investigation into so-called vanity publishing following a sharp rise in complaints.
Unions say members are increasingly contacting them about “hybrid”, “contributory” and “partnership” publishers — more commonly called vanity publishing — which charge authors to release their work.
Issues reported range from aggressive marketing tactics and emotionally manipulative sales approaches to opaque contracts and processes, and services that fall short of expectations. Unions say the fees charged are typically four or five figures, often with the authors surrendering a wide range of rights and control over their work.
Both organisations say they are concerned about exploitative practices and are beginning an investigation with a survey on the financial and contractual impact for writers. The survey, which runs until 25th April, aims to form a picture of the experiences, both positive and negative, of authors who have been approached by or worked with these publishers.
Results will be be analysed and form the basis of a report and further resources for writers on how to spot and avoid falling foul of predatory practices, alongside continued campaigning to ensure greater transparency and fairness in every type of publishing approach, with funding provided by the Authors' Licensing & Collecting Society (ALCS).
SoA chief executive Nicola Solomon said: "We have been concerned about the practices of certain publishers for a long time. But in recent years, with huge marketing budgets and opportunities for targeted online advertising, they have become ubiquitous. Today, they are often the publishing opportunities that authors see first when they look for a home for their work. They call themselves publishers, but in truth they are service providers – and what we are hearing is that the services they provide do not live up to the four-figure fees they charge. Given their prominence, we need to get an accurate picture of this growing area of book production, so we can better protect the authors who use it. We are very pleased to be working alongside the WGGB on this essential project.”
Alongside completing the survey, authors are advised to research prospective companies at selfpublishingadvice.org run by the Alliance of Independent Authors. Members of the SoA and WGGB can also have their contracts vetted before signing.
Nick Yapp, WGGB books committee co-chair, said: “At the WGGB we have become increasingly alarmed by the number of authors who have contacted us after agreeing to ‘contributory’, ‘hybrid’ or ‘subsidised’ publishing deals, with many of them finding themselves thousands of pounds out of pocket with little chance of ever recouping that money. That is why we’re delighted to be working with the Society of Authors to find out more from authors who have either been offered or agreed to one of these deals. We hope that the results will allow us to better understand the extent of these issues and, most importantly, how to address them. It’s never been so important for authors to be protecting their interests in these challenging times.”